VFR Flight Planning


FAR 91.103: Attain and become familiar with all available information concerning that flight, including but not limited to:

  • Weather reports
  • Forecasts
  • Attain weather information especially temperature, airport winds, and winds aloft
  • Fuel Requirements
  • Alternatives available
  • Runway lengths at airports of intended use
  • Takeoff and landing distance information

Consider all possible information and scenarios and use good judgment to make a Go/No Go decision


  • Pilotage: navigation by visual landmarks
  • Dead Reckoning: navigation or position finding using calculations of time, speed, distance, and direction

Determine True course: the straight line you draw on your aeronautical chart, expressed in degrees relating to true north, based on latitude and longitude lines on your chart.

  • Latitude: the lines running parallel to the equator (like the steps on a ladder or latty-fatty)
  • Longitude: lines running parallel to the Prime Meridian (definite long tall)

Determine safe altitude to cruise, considering:

  • East is Least, West is Best
    1. 91.159 VFR cruising altitude
  • 0°-179°=Odd thousand +500 feet
  • 180°-359°=Even thousand +500 feet
  • 91.119 Minimum Safe Altitudes
    1. Emergency landing “without undue hazard to persons or property on the surface”
    2. Gliding distance capabilities of the aircraft
    3. Congested areas: At least 1,000 feet above highest obstacle
    4. Non-congested areas: At least 500 feet above the surface, person, vessel, vehicle, or structure
  • Terrain-clearance requirements
  • Winds
  • Visual references
  • Oxygen requirements (§91.211): 12,500: <30min; 14,000 crew; 15,000 everyone O2

Insert winds aloft at your relative altitudes; interpolate
Insert expected temperatures for each phase and location of flight

  • Knot: (kts) nautical mile per : 1.151 mph: most aviation speed expressed in knots
  • Indicated Airspeed: (IAS) the airspeed shown on your gauge inside the cockpit
  • Calibrated Airspeed: (CAS) airspeed corrected for instrument and position error
  • True Airspeed: (TAS) airspeed corrected for pressure and temperature
  • Groundspeed: (GS) the speed of the aircraft over the ground (as if it were a car)
  • E6B: manual “Dalton computer” whiz wheel used for time, distance, multiplication, division, fuel burn, wind courses, ground speed, etc.
    1. No batteries to operate
    2. Aids in understanding the concepts of aviation calculation

AFM/POH/FIM: Airplane Flight Manual, Pilot’s Operating Handbook, Flight Information Manual-manufacturer’s publication that include information about the aircraft, performance, etc.

Pressure Altitude: altitude corrected for non-standard pressure

Calculate Performance information including pressure altitudes on the ground at all airports of intended landing and en route

Calculate True Air Speed (TAS) using the E6B

  • Take planned IAS from AFM/FIM/POH for different stages in flight
  • Set expected air temperature over pressure altitude

Ground track: the line the airplane is moving over the ground
Heading: the numerical degree the nose of the aircraft is pointing

Calculate Wind Correction Angle: aircraft heading needed to maintain straight ground track with winds aloft
True Heading: true course corrected for wind

Calculate True Heading and Ground Speed

  • Align the direction of the wind with the true index on the E6B
  • Mark the velocity of the wind away from the grommet (center hole)
  • Align true course with the true index
  • Place the mark at the true airspeed
  • Ground speed is read from the grommet
  • Wind correction angle is read from the mark
  • Subtract on the left, add on the right to get true heading

Variation: the angular difference between true north and magnetic north; indicated on charts by isogonic lines (magenta dashed lines running north/south with degree indication)

Determine Magnetic Heading: true heading corrected for magnetic variation.
Subtract or add variation as read on the VFR chart nearest the route of flight (changes with position)

  • East is Least, West is Best
    1. East is least, or less so you subtract
    2. West is best, evens are best

Deviation is found on a placard in the airplane and can be corrected in the aircraft.
Separate true course into legs, and mark on aeronautical chart (the map looking one)

  • Using an outside, clearly distinct, visual reference, easily seen from the air
  • Less than 30 nautical miles apart

Calculate (and inscribe) distance of each leg

  • Repeat for all legs
  • Add up total distance
  • Insert Distance Remaining in lower box for each leg

ETE: Estimated Time En route

  • Calculate time en route for the leg using the E6B

ATE: Actual Time En route

  • To be entered when you actually fly the plan

ETA: Estimated Time of Arrival

  • Calculated time of arrival at the end of each leg

ATA: Actual Time of Arrival

  • Calculated depending on the actual time of departure

Insert navigational facilities information.

After you complete the plan, finger fly the plan Ask a million “what if” questions and identify the best solutions

  • What engine fails right here along the route?
  • What if I lose power after takeoff?
  • What if my fuel gauge shows much lower than expected en route?
  • What if my destination airport is closed?
  • What if there isn’t any fuel at my destination airport?
  • What if the winds shifted?
  • What if Air Traffic Control reroutes me to a different route than calculated?
  • Etc Etc Etc…

Conclusion and Evaluation: The more thorough a pilot can plan a flight, the more capable and aware you are of the situation. The more familiar you are with the situation and calculations, the better apt you are to make a safe decision if something should happen in flight that requires an alternative plan.